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Eight Plays in 24 Hours: Much more than you think, in way less time

May 18, 2015

“Time is just nature’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.”

In case of the talents producing the 24 Hour Play Festival at the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco, who needs time anyway? Twenty-four hours is such a small slice of it, here-and-gone before you know it.

Picture this: a little over twenty-four hours ago, starting at precisely 8:00 p.m. Friday night, the names of eight of the Center’s gang of playwrights were drawn out of a hat. Literally, out of a silk topper. Those eight were assigned a theme, unknown to any of them before that moment: “The Devil Made Me Do It!” Now each of the playwrights pulls the name of a director from that hat. Now each director draws the names of actors from. . . .

Deadline for script delivery: 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

No matter if the genders, ages, or other physical attributes of the actors drawn matched the requirements of the scripts. The assignments are whatever they are, and the challenge is for everyone involved to pull it off. Rehearsals begin about 9:00 a.m. Saturday. Curtain is 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, the Tides Theater in SF, one of four in the Shelton Theater building on Sutter St.

The Tides is a black box, so what curtains there are conceal the narrow space backstage. Lights. Showtime!

Now, you might think, “How can any of this be any good, given the ridiculously brief 24 hour between assignment of playwrights and the theme they are to write to?” Do not underestimate the power of theater. Although some of the participants must have day jobs, the level of professionalism on display here is truly astounding.

Eight plays making one hell-of-a-festival, each of them so memorable in its own write that it is a disservice to everyone involved to name even so much as a favorite. Here follows a bullet-point list of names. Everyone deserves a standing ovation.

“Are We There Yet?” by Lorraine Midanik, directed by Paula Barrish. Actors: Emily Marie Grant and Jason Thompson.
“The Loss Temple” by Sara Judge, directed by Charley Lerrigo. Actors: Chris Nguyen, Karly Schackne, Stephanie Whigham, Preeti Mann.
“The Lab” by Gaetana Caldwell Smith (my friend who introduced me to this marvelous evening of one-act plays), directed by Sinouhui Hinojosa. Actors: Miyoko Sakatani, Jerren V. Jones, Edith Reiner.
“Audition from Hell” by Mary Blackfore, directed by Tatiana Gelfland. Actors: John Ferreiro, Genevieve Purdue, Richard S. Sargent, Lee-Ron.


“The Latest Small Triumph of Levia Stand: by Vonn Scott Bair, directed by Ted Zoldan. Actors: Merri Gordon, Lisa Klein, Chris Maltby.
“Brothers in Arms” by Jeffrey Blaze, directed by Kris Neely. Actors: J. D. Scalzo, Alesander Delgadillo.
“Barbie Pink, Barbie Yellow. . .” by Elizabeth A. Rosenberg, directed by Nathanael Card. Actors: Roberta J. Morris, Sara Leight.
“The Dance Card” by Jacqueline E. Luckett, directed by Don Hardwick. Actors Louel Senores, Katrina Kroetch.

The offerings ranged from the farcial through insightful into truly amazing. The genuine laughs were frequent, the surprising turns of events many. If I mention “The Lab” for its black-humored look at the real problems facing coming generations, or “Brothers in Arms” for its subtle reworking of dominance in a family, it is not to diminish the amazing contributions of all the other artists at work in this phenomenal all-in-a-day work of theatrical production.

That day, for this event, has already closed. A capsule review such as this is pointless, unless it calls your attention to the next such 24-hour festival, and brings you down to witness theatrical art at one of its many highest levels.

Website: Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco

American CEO Compensation Plummets 29% in Fifteen Years: Did YOUR wage fall 2% per year?

May 15, 2015

Deep inside the San Francisco Chronicle’s pages (May 15, 2015), this shocking truth is hidden, as they often are, beneath a misleading headline. The hope appears to be that no one will notice, but sharp-eyed readers of the Business Section can’t help but see the truth hidden between the lines. It appears that in 2000 CEOs were making a comfortable “525 times more than the average worker.” By 2013 this had fallen to a paltry “331 times what the average worker was paid,” but this was largely due to the 2008 recession and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 that affected all CEO compensation.

This represented, in those dark years, a decline of 37%, with shockwaves circulating through all the dependent industries of real estate—second and third homes, view estates, and so on—as well as the subsidiary labor markets of yacht-polishers, gardeners and housecleaners, Sub-Zero refrigerator repairmen,Rolex and diamond salesmen, and so on. Not to mention sleeper-seats on transoceanic airplanes, high-rolling bets at the Vegas tables. The repercussions of this dramatic decline in CEO compensation were endless, and devastating.

Fortunately for all concerned, the 29% figure actually represents a modest improvement over the bleakest days of the recession. “Last year, the average CEO was paid $13.5 million.” Many of the headlines you will have seen call attention to the decline of workers’ buying power over the past fifteen years, but their loss is by comparison almost minimal.

Of course the overall figures of CEO compensation being 373 (for 2014) or 525 (for 2000) times the average worker do seem to be pretty positive when compared with 42 times (for 1980, the last year of the Carter administration.) But that was a long time ago, before Reagan’s “trickle-down” theory of economics.

But, take heart. 2015 is on a good start toward making up for CEO pay losses brought about by the Great Recession of 2008. The “average workers” can feel proud of the contribution they have made toward a remedy.

Other headlines from the San Francisco Chronicle for May 15, 2015:
Malaysia turns away 800 abandoned at sea
Israeli court paves way for demolition of Bedouin village (“Israel says the hundred of villagers are sitting on state-owned land slated for development. . . expected to feature a hotel and a country club.”)
Death toll rises to 72 in footwear factory fire
Obama pledges US will stand by [oil-rich] allies in gulf

To quote Lily Tomlin, “”No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

I never intended for this column to be a place to air my social-political views, but sometimes there is a point to be made, and I’m compelled to make it.

World Premier: David Hirzel’s one-act play “The Trial of Michel Terrehaute” at Fringe of Marin

May 12, 2015

Dateline May 2-9, 2015:
From the Introduction to “The Trial of Michel Terrehaute” by David Hirzel:

“The events you are about to witness come to this stage from history. The story is true, the men you will meet the survivors of these events. The British Navy had chosen John Franklin to lead an expedition to explore venture overland through the Canadian tundra to the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 1821. These men were poorly equipped in sustenance, in clothing, and in mental capacity to withstand the rigors of that winter’s early October onset. They had run out of food with hundreds of miles yet to go to reach their winter quarters. The main party went ahead.

“Three seamen, too weak to travel farther, stayed behind to await help or to meet their maker. One of them did die, perhaps by his own hand. Or perhaps by that of fourth man, the Iroquois Indian guide stronger than the others who had stayed behind with them. Whether to help, or to murder them, will never be known.”

Michel Terrehaute, the outsider of the three, was accused and tried in absentia, and executed for crimes he was suspected of, and crimes he had yet to commit. Did an act self-preservation on their part justify what in another country would be murder?

In a short twenty-minutes, “The Trial of Michel Terrehaute” considers the larger themes of justice in a harsh and unforgiving world. One not all that different from the one in which we live today, where war and terrorism raise their ugly heads in every nation.

Renée Mandel-Sher, DIRECTOR
Derek Jepsen, as JOHN HEPBURN, a sailor on shore
Michael Walraven, as JOHN RICHARDSON, Hepburn’s superior officer in the British Navy.

Fringe of Marin:

Rehearsal 4/24/15:  Director Renee Mandel-Sher with Michael Walraven and Derek Jepsen

Rehearsal 4/24/15: Director Renee Mandel-Sher with Michael Walraven and Derek Jepsen

“Antarctic Voyager: Tom Crean with Scott’s ‘Discovery’ Expedition 1901-1904″

May 3, 2015

Author and polar historian David Hirzel is pleased to announce the publication of his latest book, “Antarctic Voyager: Tom Crean with Scott’s Discovery Expedition 1901-1904” at Craobh Haven Scotland.

This book recounts the start of the Irish explorer’s time in the Antarctic that included his notable adventures in Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (“Sailor on Ice” 1910-1913) and Shackleton’s Endurance expedition (“Hold Fast” 1913-1917). The three books together take the reader along with Crean, through some of the most harrowing tales of survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.

All are available from Terra Nova Press ( and

David Hirzel Book Release

David Hirzel discussing details of Discovery’s propeller and rudder protection systems at Croabh Haven, May 4, 2015.

On Leadership: Wisdom not Mine

April 6, 2015

In the course of our continuing conversations on the nature of, and elusive definition of the concept of “Leadership,” [Alice Cochran, Faculty Leadership Fellow at Dominican University’s Institute for Leadership Studies] we talk often on the very nature of: “Leadership.”

I from my historical/Antarctic model: Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen. She from a larger range of examples.

Harkening back to my polar-studies model, I’ve come across this from Beau Riffenburgh’s 2006 introduction to veteran Antarctic sea captain John King Davis’s “With the ‘Aurora’ in the Antarctic 1911-1914″:

“Davis learned what he would forever regard as the key characteristics of a capable leader:
–Force of character
–The manner of instinctive command
–underlying all of these, a necessary detachment and isolation.”

These characteristics ought to be considered to apply in any field of leadership, from committee chair to captain of a ship to prime minister or president, and any place in between.

The Art of Writing: What makes a good story?

March 11, 2015

What makes a good story?

Storytelling is coming into its own as a spoken-word art. It starts of course with the written word. With the beginning, the middle, and the end, so carefully crafted that the listener, or the reader, is drawn into the story before they are aware of it.

“Storytelling is joke-telling,” says Andrew Stanton (Toy Stories and Finding Nemo, among others you will know). “It’s knowing your punchline, your ending—knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal.”

Meaning, to me, if you don’t know how your story ends—and I mean to the very last period at the end of the very last word in your story, novel, poem, article—you can’t know how it must begin, or what has to be said throughout to bring your reader to that end. Not every story is a joke, not every tale is funny, but every one has a punchline.

Tom Albrighton (ABC Copywriting) noted some key points of storytelling, including drama (well, yes), relatability, immersion, simplicity, familiarity, trust in the story teller. All good measures to involve the reader. But I like this one best: “agency,” the art of letting readers work out the meaning of the story for themselves.

I discovered this concept by accident, on reading Hemingway for the very first time in my life, less than a year ago. “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” chosen at complete random as the first to read from an anthology of all Hemingway’s short fiction.

And here’s what happened as I read this: There was no backstory provided, just the characters immersed in their world, doing what they were doing, saying what they were saying. I sought in vain for an anchor to hold the story, and in such seeking I leapt from one word, one sentence, to the next. I became invested in the story, shaping it in my mind as I went, thinking I knew what was happening and what was going to happen.

I was wrong about that, of course. The penultimate moment, when it came, not when or what I expected, was all the more powerful for the weaving of the story that had happened within my own mind. I had no word for it then, but I do now: “agency.”

Your job, as the storyteller, is to give that to your audience.

P. S. These hints were published in Toastmaster, the official magazine of Toastmasters International, an organization that every writer who wishes to promote a book through public speaking and book events. (More on Toastmasters in a future post).

P. P. S. Not all of Hemingway’s stories have this effect. The next one I read (and the last, as it turns out, largely from the failure of the promise) left me cold.

On the writing of a Trilogy. . . .

March 5, 2015

On the creation of a trilogy–which the three parts of Tom Crean’s real-life adventures certainly comprise–consider these thoughts adapted from the interview of graphic novel creator Jason Neulander by Chad Jones appearing in SF Chronicle’s “96 Hours” dated 3/5-8/15.

Jones: “Do you need to have seen the [first installment] to enjoy those following?”

Neulander: “Absolutely not. No previous [] experience necessary. The story stands alone. Book two is, like any good middle part of a trilogy, a little bit darker. It has more characters and is more complex.”

The same can be said of the Tom Crean trilogy “Sailor on Ice.” Each of the books is intended to stand alone as a story, and work with one or both of the other two to create a monumental story of one man’s survival–not as an individual, but always and inevitably as a part of a team dependent on the integrity and strength of each of its members ensuring the ultimate survival of all.

[The three books of the Tom Crean trilogy in order of historical event are “Antarctic Voyager (1901-1904),” “Sailor on Ice (1910-1913),” and “Hold Fast (1913-1916),” are all in print as of May 2015, and will be subsequently published by Terra Nova Press as a boxed set entitled “Sailor on Ice” in 2016.]


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